Un­cle Win­ston loved to paint – but he had no nat­u­ral tal­ent

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Pa­trick Sawer

Win­ston Churchill may have been an en­thu­si­as­tic ama­teur artist who found paint­ing re­lax­ing at times of stress – but he was a poor painter with no sense of beauty.

That damn­ing ver­dict comes not from a snob­bish art critic, or even an em­bit­tered po­lit­i­cal ri­val, but from one of those clos­est to him.

Clarissa Eden, Count­ess of Avon – Churchill’s niece and the widow of for­mer prime min­is­ter An­thony Eden – says: “My un­cle didn’t have a good eye. He did paint­ing; they were quite nice. But he wasn’t an aes­thete.”

The walls of Chartwell, Churchill’s for­mer home in Kent, are lined with some of the 544 sketches, por­traits and land­scapes he pro­duced, and only last Novem­ber the fi­nal paint­ing he com­pleted be­fore his death, The Gold­fish Pool At Chartwell, smashed es­ti­mates when it sold at auc­tion for £357,000. Churchill’s im­age as the lion-hearted prime min­is­ter has re­cently been re­in­forced by Gary Old­man’s Os­carnom­i­nated por­trayal of him as in­spi­ra­tional or­a­tor, ral­ly­ing Bri­tain and rout­ing would-be ap­peasers in Dark­est Hour.

But Lady Avon goes out of her way to re­mind us that the war­time leader was in fact “a fail­ure” for much of his po­lit­i­cal life, out of of­fice and at odds with his col­leagues. “I al­ways knew him as a great man who hadn’t been ap­pre­ci­ated. Most of my [early] life he was a fail­ure. He was out of a job, out of work and not right in any­thing he be­lieved in,” she says in an in­ter­view in the lat­est edi­tion of

Spear’s, the wealth man­age­ment and lux­ury life­style magazine, pub­lished to­day.

“He was in ex­ile, so to speak. Go­ing to Chartwell be­fore the war was go­ing to a place in ex­ile – a place where peo­ple were not do­ing any­thing. It was all rather frus­trat­ing and sad.”

Lady Avon, 97, was cer­tainly in a po­si­tion to ob­serve her un­cle’s po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal for­tunes from close quar­ters.

She is the daugh­ter of Jack Churchill, Win­ston’s younger brother, and Lady Gwen­do­line Ber­tie, daugh­ter of the Earl of Abing­don.

Lady Avon, who lived through the 1956 Suez cri­sis at her hus­band’s side in Down­ing Street – when she fa­mously re­marked “the Suez Canal flow­ing through my draw­ing room” – is also crit­i­cal in her as­sess­ment of Churchill as a man, suggest­ing he was prone to be­ing self-cen­tred and ig­nor­ing those around him.

She says of vis­its to Chartwell, the home that Churchill shared with his wife Cle­men­tine from 1922 un­til his death in Jan­uary 1965, and which is now open to the pub­lic and run by the Na­tional Trust: “It was just him. One went and there was him and noth­ing else. They had the lunch or what­ever it was, and he would talk and one would lis­ten; that was the im­por­tant part.

“He was not in­ter­ested in what any­body else had to say. If some­body fa­mous was at lunch he would lis­ten to them, but on the whole he didn’t pay any at­ten­tion to any­body.”

Lady Avon, a friend of Ce­cil Beaton, the so­ci­ety pho­tog­ra­pher and de­signer, and Ian Flem­ing, the cre­ator of James Bond, also chal­lenges another of the com­monly-held be­liefs about Churchill: that he con­sumed a co­pi­ous amount of al­co­hol. “Not more than most men,” she says.

But time spent around her un­cle was end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing. “It was in­ter­est­ing al­ways be­cause Win­ston was so in­ter­est­ing,” she says. “One al­ways wanted to know what he was think­ing and do­ing.”

For all his set­backs, Churchill did, of course, achieve great­ness even­tu­ally, she says. “By the end of his life he was very great, wasn’t he? It would be very dif­fi­cult not to re­alise that he would be re­mem­bered. He was ex­cep­tional, cer­tainly.”

Lady Avon adds: “I think I re­alised he was very great in spite of the fact that ev­ery­one kept telling one that he was.”

But was he the great­est Bri­tish prime min­is­ter of the 20th cen­tury? His niece has a suc­cinct an­swer.

“Who was greater?”

‘He was not in­ter­ested in what any­body else had to say… He didn’t pay any at­ten­tion to any­body’

Churchill as an artist and, left, his fi­nal work, The Gold­fish Pool At Chartwell. Lady Avon, be­low, said her un­cle’s work was nice – but he was not an aes­thete

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